Minnesota revamped and ready to start new season

Friday will mark Marlene Stollings’ first game as head coach at Minnesota.

Minnesota guard Rachel Banham dribbles past Green Bay guard Megan Lukan on March 19, 2014 at Williams Arena.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota guard Rachel Banham dribbles past Green Bay guard Megan Lukan on March 19, 2014 at Williams Arena.

Matt Greenstein

With the hiring of Marlene Stollings, fans had better not blink, or they’ll miss the up-tempo style the new head coach has implemented into the Gophers’ new-look team.

The Gophers will open their season against Southeastern Louisiana on Friday for a game Stollings said the team has been anxiously awaiting.

“We have completely revamped the style, the pace of the game and other sorts of things, and they’ve been extremely coachable and embraced it every step of the way. They’re very excited [about] putting a product on the floor that I think our fans are going to love this Friday,” Stollings said.

Senior guard Rachel Banham said the new tempo is a good fit for the team to be successful.

“It’s fun to be able to push it up and score quick, especially when the defense [isn’t] set. That’s great for me as well because people like to double team me, trap me, but if they can’t find me in that kind of a pace, that’s easier for me as well as my team,” Banham said.

Banham is currently seven points away from reaching 2,000 points during her Gophers tenure.

“It’s just another goal that I’m going to reach. [I’m] super excited to be out there with my teammates. [The] first game is obviously exciting … but to be able to get my 2,000th is going to be great,” Banham said.

Her teammates, including redshirt junior Kayla Hirt, are also looking forward to the milestone.

“I think that’s exciting for her. I think this year she’s going to be doing things that she never even expected to do when she came here as a freshman. It’s an honor being able to play with someone like that, and we’ve been playing together for seven years now, so it’s exciting to watch someone grow from when we started to where she is now,” Hirt said.

Hirt said the new system has given her a chance to focus on being a difference-maker.

“Coach [Stollings] calls me the X-Factor. I’m here to do the little things,” Hirt said.

Hirt will be part of a solid supporting cast that Stollings said is instrumental to the team’s success.

Stollings said the starting lineup will consist of three guards, including freshman Carlie Wagner.

“She’s going to be another big asset to our team. Yeah, she’s a freshman, but I don’t look at her as a freshman. I think she has potential to do some really great things this year,” Hirt said.

Last year, Banham averaged 35.7 minutes per game, but Stollings said she hopes to give Banham more chances to rest.

“We think she’ll be much more efficient with what we’d like to get out of her. The pace is going to be much quicker. It will be very helpful if we can give her much more rest throughout games,” Stollings said.

Stollings stressed that the season will be a work in progress for the Gophers to find their identity in the new system.

“It is early, and it’s a process. The implementation of our system, while it’s gone smoothly, it’s still early, and they’re going to continue to develop and learn exactly what we want,” Stollings said.